Dear Chump Lady,
I’m in my early 20s, studying for a career, and have never had kids or been married. I am not bad-looking and at a healthy weight. I have had a ton of bad, short-term exclusive relationships that I often had to end myself because they became unbearable.
Since I started dating, I decided I would not tolerate any infidelity, even a one-night-stand, in my future relationships, despite depictions of people forgiving cheaters in the media. I never cheated, even when I was in a relationship that brought me no joy and I just wanted to be alone. That being said, I LOVE your blog and community. You validate my philosophy of 100% honesty and being giving to a partner just because it’s in your nature. You call out cheating for what it is: abusive. Chump Nation is made up of incredibly strong and inspiring people with a great sense of humor.
While I have never really been cheated on, I am very chumpy. Almost all of my exes were abusive (mostly emotional), showing passive-aggression, stonewalling, disrespect, and/or criticism. I have been lied to countless times through omission or outright lies to my face. I would spackle and ignore gut feelings that something was wrong, and blame myself for being “too picky” or “expecting perfection.” Or maybe I would think the guy really cared for me because he was unapologetic about his flaws and skipped all of the romantic stuff I convinced myself I didn’t have to have. But let’s face it: I always wanted a steady stream of sweet, inexpensive gestures and compliments like I would give to them. I still struggle with the idea that a guy would want to be genuinely romantic with me.
I mean, I’m not perfect and I have my quirks, but I never would criticize a person’s positive qualities (like they have). Instead, I would try to bring up concerns about their hurtful behavior and how I felt with tact. I gently said (at the beginning) what I was looking for, what I expected, and telling them to tell me if anything bothered them, and to be themselves. No dice. My boundaries were violated and I was expected to stay because I “owed” them for putting up with me, or they had some issue with me and didn’t speak up, so they would act emotionally distant to get me to break up with them.
I tried so many tactics to get different results. I tried dating at a time when I actually felt confident for a change. I tried lowering my standards, dating guys I wasn’t that attracted to in hopes the attraction would come. That was a big mistake, as it only got worse and I was often treated badly (never again!). I still struggle with that old romantic comedy trope where I as the woman “owe” the guy a date or an attempt at forced attraction if he appears “nice.” I tried dating guys I was physically attracted to, and they treated me badly too, but in an emotionally cold way instead of the oppressively needy way. I spackled over red flags, but these guys were all way nicer to me in the beginning.
I’m taking a break from dating and am in therapy. I have read maybe a dozen books (from this site and others) about abuse and understand it in theory, but keep attracting those types of guys.
So, my question is, how do I repel these not-so-great guys from asking me out? How do I filter out the fakes and tell who the good guys are? It seems that no matter what I do I can’t attract guys who I am attracted to (not models, just hygienic guys who “click” with me) who don’t give me a bad gut feeling at some point. It almost seems like a respectful, romantic, monogamous relationship that feels “right” is a unicorn for me. I am a warm person and have made close non-romantic friends, so I don’t understand why this is an issue for me.
Sending love and good vibes to Chump Nation,
Well, let’s start with the easy question first. “How do I repel these not-so-great guys from asking me out?”
Say “no thanks.” That’s it. Smile politely. Turn your attention back to whatever you were doing.
Now, it’s been a long time since I was in my early 20s, and the dating world has changed considerably since the 1980s. In fact I think it’s been replaced with an ap. Do young people even do courtship any more? I read these alarming articles about the “hook up” culture, how you all just text one another for bootie calls. Are your friends dating? Do you have someone to compare your situation with? Part of me feels like you wrote to Emily Post and would like some help with your anachronisms. “During which dining course should I use my seafood fork?”
WE DON’T USE SEAFOOD FORKS ANYMORE. NO ONE KNOWS WHAT A SEAFOOD FORK IS.
Dating as you may imagine it died around 1963 I think. You know, where nice courteous young men intent on a Future asked out nice courteous young women and Everyone Knew Where This Was Heading… because it was 1963 and as my mother says, you didn’t have a lot of options. “You either got married and had children after high school. Or you got married and had children after college.”
By the late 1980s, when I was in college dating (was it dating?), things were a lot more casual. And you had a lot more options. “I’m going to go to South Africa and spend some time studying the anti-apartheid movement” was, like, an actual option. Boyfriends come and boyfriends go, but they don’t stand in the way of the Options. Of course, then you wind up some years later and realize that you had a lot more boyfriend options in college and grad school, but still — I think the defining thing about my generation is that people had ACTUAL boyfriends and girlfriends. “This is Joe, my boyfriend.” You could really say that in 1988.
Now, from what I’ve observed, and some years in the dating trenches as a single mom later, is that it’s all very fuzzy. “Uh, I’m sleeping with you, but is this exclusive?” We imagine it’s this smorgasbord of unlimited possibility. Our options have options. We have online dating. We have multimedia. We have hook up aps. I want a United Methodist, vegan who makes $100,000+ a year, is athletic and toned, and 7 inches taller than me.
It’s all gotten very out of hand.
I don’t think you’re asking for too much. A decent person, you’re attracted to, who does thoughtful things.
I always wanted a steady stream of sweet, inexpensive gestures and compliments…
So what you’re asking for, is for someone to be as into YOU as you are into THEM. Because you do those things for them.
I’m going to go with two avenues of advice. First — your problem is situational. You’re in your early 20s and guys are immature because they’re… immature. Second tack — your problem is you. I’ll take you at your word. You’re a jerk magnet.
Let’s start off with your situation. You’re young. While many would argue this is the very best time to date, because you’re surrounded by dateable, available people — this is also your problem — everyone is surrounded by dateable, available people. You add in the instant gratification culture, young horniness, everyone’s immaturity and hey, no surprise you get a bunch of jerky people who don’t feel like they have to be on their best behavior, because NEXT! You’re replaceable.
My advice for you here is don’t settle. And don’t be afraid to “next” someone who is not on their best behavior for you. Don’t spackle and think it doesn’t matter if they insult you, forget you, lie to your face. It matters. And the best way to turn an immature person into an mature person is to levy consequences. (Good practice for the parenting years that come later.) Maybe you won’t have a surplus of suitors, but you won’t be wasting your time either. If you can enforce your boundaries — you’re not a chump.
The good news about being young is you’ve got plenty of time. And really you should be very busy finishing your education and starting your career. Don’t feel so fraught about dating. You’re getting really good at sorting out who is for you, and who is not for you. That requires dumping and being dumped (ouch). It’s a skill set. You’re mastering it. Be kind to yourself, find your sense of humor about it, and don’t take it too seriously right now. Hell, you might want to consider just shelving dating for now. Who needs the crazy? Focus on YOU and your life goals (the one that doesn’t include Get a Boyfriend).
Next tack of advice — the problem is you’re chumpy and you have to swat the disordered off you like flies.
A couple things jumped out at me. First — I gently said (at the beginning) what I was looking for, what I expected, and telling them to tell me if anything bothered them, and to be themselves.
Yeah. Don’t do that. This isn’t summer camp. People don’t show up and expect a list of house rules. “No running at the swimming pool. Only dive from the deep end. Horseplay will result in a time out and loss of privileges. Now everyone have a GREAT SUMMER!”
Even if you’re dating a total cretin, work from the assumption that he’s not a total cretin and you don’t need to spell out what you are Expecting. That tells me you aren’t secure in enforcing your boundaries or letting things progress naturally.
What you’re looking for? A nice person. Okay, if he’s not nice, you dump him. A commitment? If after so many months/years it’s not going in the direction you had hoped, you dump him. Fidelity? If he cheats, you dump him.
See how that works? You don’t CONTROL people. And asking them to behave a certain way implies an insecurity that you don’t think they will actually behave that way. You only control YOU. No point in announcing the rules — you LIVE your rules.
Next red flag.
I always wanted a steady stream of sweet, inexpensive gestures and compliments like I would give to them.
Don’t force things. It’s nice to be nice, but do NOT get into a lopsided situation, where you are doing all these things for someone hoping they will do them for you. It can be codependent. Look what I did! NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. Or chumpier still, you do these things with no hope of reciprocity because to do them is to earn your place as their partner. I must be of value. (Because I have no value unless I’m doing things for you.)
You know who loves people like that? Users and abusers. If you’re doing for people before they do for you, or out of proportion of what they do for you — yes, you will attract jerks.
How to avoid this? Relax. Find people you have a mutual connection with, be friends first, and let it evolve organically. And let people do for you. Accept help. Don’t wave good people off when they want to help. Don’t be the person who has to always do for others. Learn to give and TAKE.
How do you identify these good people? Work together on some larger project — a political campaign, a volunteer effort, a class project. What does their character look like? Do they pitch in? Play fair? Share the credit?
Here’s what I’ve learned about attracting a good person — at any age. (I’m 47, it took me a while to figure this out.) Go be awesome and where you feel your best, is where you’ll find your friends. When you’re happy, doing the things you do best, that’s when you’ll attract someone who values you for the very things you value in yourself.
Is it fool-proof? No. You might not stumble into the right party at the right time. But it doesn’t matter because you’re still going to be doing those things that bring out your best self. You’ll be happy.
I met my husband at Jazzfest in New Orleans. I love New Orleans, I love roots music. He loves those things. He was in that place. I love to travel. He loves to travel. We fell in love writing to each other. He’s a verbal gerbil. I’m a verbal gerbil. I love to write. He loves to write. He loves my writing. I love his writing.
Meet people in your happy place. You don’t have a happy place? Work on that before you work on dating. No book or shrink can tell you what your happy place is. For some people it’s a dog park, or an online community, or it’s church. You’re in your early 20s — there is a huge world of happy places to explore. Find the people who gravitate to the same places you go. Will they have good character? Well, that’s a crapshoot, but it also depends on your happy place. I’d hazard there are more good people in the master gardening workshop than the bar… but that’s probably me imposing my 47 year old dork values on you.
Go be happy. Know your worth. Don’t settle. That’s all I’ve got.